Motorcycle Passengers - Off Idle

As you would probably guess, I don't carry passengers all that often. I have carried more than a few over the years, though: friends, photographers, my ex-husband who was, well, so much of a man he never worried about whether he was acting manly. I also took my sister on the back of a Gold Wing for a weeklong vacation when we were both single and in our early 20s. (Some trip, indeed). I've had good passengers and bad, but it has never really mattered much since I am a well-practiced and exceedingly well-taught rider. And I know enough to teach my passengers the basics before they get on the bike.

I've just recently returned from a ride where I carried a new passenger. A trip down the gorgeous coastal Pacific Northwest from Seattle to my home in Northern California. As on my sister's and my adventure, I was piloting a Honda Gold Wing (I know how to treat 'em right), though on this trek I was nearly 40 and a long way from most of my youthful misadventures. No hangovers, no heartaches to mend, not even a chance encounter with the police. My passenger this time was another youthful, trusting female relative, though, who prior to our departure hadn't a clue to the joys and potential perils of a long street ride. This time I was toting my 13-year-old daughter, Hannah.
What a heavy load.

She's an amazing girl, Hannah, and I have more fun with her than anyone on the planet. I would rather be with her than anywhere else...and she with me. We were both reluctant to take a motorcycle trip together, however. She thought it would be hardcore, boring and, oh yeah, totally uncool. I thought it would be a challenge to keep her happy. I mean- there's just not a Nordstrom in every town on the Pacific Northwestern shoreline. More seriously, we didn't have the luxury of 200-mile days. We had to clock some long hours if we wanted to stay on the (totally-worth-it) scenic route. But then again, part of us both wanted to do it. My ever-worldly Hannah because she'd just gotten out of school and wanted a way out of town, and me because I knew if I could make it comfortable for her, she would have a most fantastic memory to tell her grandkiddies about. And, of course, I had the perfect passenger's bike awaiting recovery in Seattle (I'd had to leave it there temporarily on the way back from an adventure in Alaska. See our Summer issue of Motorcycle Escape, on sale now). If Hannah was going to belly-up to the pillion seat, I knew there might not be a better opportunity.

It rained on us straight out of the gate. Surprise. My first emotion as we rode out of the city was as profoundly heavy as the dark clouds roiling overhead, and so thick it had me rattled. What a responsibility it is to carry a passenger. I thought of all you riders I meet in my travels who carry your wives, your girlfriends, kids, grandkids, and I remember thinking, "Wow. This is a big deal. The ultimate responsibility." Could I enjoy riding with the weight of the world on my back seat?

Potentials become extreme each time we twist the throttle. The potential for joy, for satisfaction, for a sense of self...but equally, for discomfort, for injury, and even for death. As riders, we all know the risks. We sign up for them. Our passengers? They're just along for the ride. They've handed us the key to their own fate, whether blindly or not, and there it is burning a hole in our hip pocket.

I know we drive people around in our cars, and we ride in theirs. Heck, we ride in airport shuttles and taxi cabs with drivers we've never seen before. But would you get on the back of a motorcycle with any of those people?

Hannah was a great passenger, partly because she weighs about 10 ounces, but mostly because she rides a dirtbike and knows the dynamics of two-wheeled motion. She didn't complain when it was raining, when it was cold, when it was hot, when she got sick and was miserable. She didn't even whine once when our last day turned into a 90-plus-degree 550-miler. We listened to music and chatted away the days using our trick Gold Wing-option full-face Shoeis with built-in audio. We loved the bike. We ate fresh seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We marveled at the vital, rugged shore and the dense, rich marshes. Really, I couldn't have asked for a better companion.

But I'm also going to admit I felt utterly relieved as she swung her fawnlike leg off the bike for the last time. I can say I enjoyed the trip, but it was probably the time with her more than the riding itself. It was so different from riding alone, and yes, different, even, from riding with an adult passenger. But still. I think the fact that I was carrying my only child simply exaggerated a responsibility that exists no matter who our passengers are. It made me more acutely aware of how important it is to know what we're doing before we take someone else's lives in ours hands.

The trust our passengers place on our shoulders each time they agree to a ride may be half blind, but it's also built on a desire to be close to you, and the desire to share in the satisfying adventures that come so easily to those of us who ride motorcycles. The trust is paramount. It's a gift as well as a burden, a shackle as well as a crown.

Wear it wisely.
-Jamie Elvidge